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Pawlenty on the ticket? Two presidential thinkers assess his chances

Tim Pawlenty attending a Mitt Romney ice cream social in Milford, N.H., last Friday.

As Devin Henry noted this morning, Politico wrote a very excited piece about Tim Pawlenty’s “soaring” prospects for being chosen as Mitt Romney’s running-mate.

U of M political scientist Larry Jacobs threw tepid water on the rumor, saying that while TPaw is “a workhorse for the Romney campaign,” and is  “running hard for the VP slot” and is “getting a serious look,”  but in the end, Pawlenty is much more likely to end up in the Romney cabinet than on the Repub ticket.

“The key fact to keep in mind,” Jacobs told me, is that running-mates “generally make no significant positive difference to the electoral fortunes of the presidential candidate. They are picked in the contemporary era for governing purposes and compatibility with the top guy.

“TPaw gets points for compatibility,” Jacobs said, “but adds nothing on governing side — he’s got the same background as Romney,” meaning they are both former governor’s but neither has Washington experience.

Said Jacobs:  “My strong hunch is that Romney will go with someone closer to the Rob Portman profile — knows DC well and has proven a skill at staying in background while sharing Romney’s cognitive style. If Romney wins, TPaw will get a cabinet post.”

When I recently covered a TPaw talk at the Humphrey school, he tried to pour much-colder-then-tepid water on the veep talk, telling a gaggle of journalists:

“I’m going to take my name off the list, so if … you’re a journalist, an observer, remove my name from the list.”

Ha ha. For various reasons, the 10 or 20 (or is it 100?) politicos whose names pass through the rumor mill have decided, as a group, that when asked about their standing in the veepstakes they will disparage their interest and their chances without quite making a Shermanesque statement that would embarrass them on the day they are named as the running-mate. “Take my name of the list” is closer to Shermanesque than the usual “I’m flattered to be considered but I’m happy with my job as …,” but if the day arrives, you’ll find it is riddled with loopholes.

Also, if you missed it and want a serious introduction to the veepstakes, full of myth-busting, read Joel Goldstein’s piece in “Community Voices.” He’s a top scholar, writer and thinker on all things vice presidential, but he takes all the fun out of overreacting to the daily rumors.

UPDATE: Goldstein sees TPaw as reasonably likely

As soon as I posted the thoughts above from Jacobs, Goldstein got back to me on the same topic, and sees the TPaw-for-veep possibility as reasonably likely. Here’s Goldstein’s take:

I think Gov. Pawlenty is likely to be one of the few possible running mates Gov. Romney examines most closely and he may wind up on the ticket depending on which needs weigh most heavily with Romney.

I suspect Romney has essentially eliminated the neophytes who had demographic (Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, N.H. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, Nev. Gov. Brian Sandoval, New Mex. Gov. Susana Martinez) or big or swing state (Rubio, Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell) appeal and is focused on a smaller group who appear to be more plausible national figures by virtue of prior experience, past presidential or VP candidacies or mentions (e.g. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Pawlenty, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan of Wisc., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, S.D. Sen. John Thune).

Although Portman has some clear attributes (a reputation for being able, experience in national government, and he’s from Ohio) he is thought to be bland, was in the George W. Bush administration, and has an affluent and elite pedigree.  The latter two factors — the Bush association and elite pedigree — pose problems for Romney since he wants voters to think that our economic problems began on Obama’s watch and he’s vulnerable to the perception that his economic circumstances are so different from those most people face that he really doesn’t get it.

Pawlenty doesn’t have this baggage.  He wasn’t part of the Bush administration (in fact, didn’t Cheney ask him not to run for the Senate to leave the way clear for Coleman?).  More importantly, he’s from a Bidenesque background with a sympathetic narrative. Whereas Romney has trouble with Joe Six Pack, Pawlenty presumably can relate.  Moreover, he, like Portman, is from the Midwest, where many of the swing states are, especially Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, but also blue leaning Minnesota and Michigan and red leaning Indiana and Missouri.  If Romney wants to run an anti D.C. campaign, Pawlenty reinforces that message (whereas Portman, Ryan, Thune don’t). 

Pawlenty may have some appeal to Christian Evangelicals, too.  Finally, and importantly, Pawlenty seems ready and willing to play the attack person for Romney.

Of course, Pawlenty has some downside, too.  Although runners up (LBJ, George H.W. Bush, John Edwards) sometimes are chosen, also rans usually are not, except Biden (and he ran a much better race in 2008 against a much stronger field than did Pawlenty).  Pawlenty’s abysmal presidential race will raise some cautions, although running for VP is quite different from running for president. 

Choosing Pawlenty leaves the ticket without any national security credential; we haven’t had a Governor-Governor ticket since 1948.  Since then six governors (Adlai Stevenson, twice, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) have chosen D.C. insiders.

Is Pawlenty really ready for the national stage? And although he won in Minnesota, a blue state, both times in three way races and the second time very narrowly.

If he’s chosen, his ‘Obamneycare’ reference and then unwillingness to stand by it will surface as will his record as governor re: budget, taxes, etc.  Most of this will get flushed out now that Politico etc. have deemed him a serious possibility.  If the GOP tax cutters or others find him unpalatable, they will weigh in.

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/20/2012 - 09:25 am.

    Adds Nothing on the Governing Side

    Tim Pawlenty, in six words.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/20/2012 - 10:19 am.

    Romney’s candidacy and presidency would be threatened, harmed or embarrassed by anyone with stronger (or firmer) convictions to the right or left of him.

    Therefore, he will end up with someone as “squishy” as he is.

    Pawlenty fills the bill, but like you said, doesn’t have foreign policy experience. But on the other hand, when you are of the party that “makes it own reality”, what does reality and experience matter?

  3. Submitted by scott gibson on 06/20/2012 - 10:39 am.

    Pawlenty does not secure MN for Romney

    And probably has little effect on the outcome in other midwestern states. Pawlenty is not a presence. Bachman blew right past him there. Sure, Pawlenty is good at being an attack dog. He is, at his base, a mean-spirited opportunist. It would be a contrast, of sorts, to Romney, but it doesn’t expand Romney’s appeal in a national sense. Pawlenty is also a poster boy for partisan governmental inaction (‘My way or the highway’). That will also marginalize Romney’s overall appeal.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/20/2012 - 10:44 am.

    Can Kicker for VP – Go Republicans

    If Romney can’t sink himself, Pawlenty surely can do the job for him. Here is a guy whose only mode of operation was to kick the can down the road so someone else could clean up the mess and he could look presidential. He was told, in no uncertain terms, in his ever so brief presidential run that he is not the man for the office. So now Romney may make him a heart beat away from the office. That seems to me to be very disrespectful of the public when they have already passed judgment on Pawlenty. Pawlenty is very good at double talk, just like Romney. Neither one of them stands for anything.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2012 - 12:11 pm.

    It’s a white bread

    good hair ticket.
    Aside from that ….
    If this ends up being the GOP slate it will guarantee a totally negative campaign, since neither of them have anything positive to offer (Romney’s tap dancing as fast as he can away from the positive things that he did in Massachusetts).

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/20/2012 - 01:39 pm.

    It’ll never happen

    Romney walked the primary gauntlet dodging slings and arrows from the conservative base.

    He’ll have to name someone whom the conservatives can get excited about to ensure there’s no enthusiasm gap. Unfortunately for Tim, he ain’t it.

    Contrary to popular belief, Sarah Palin actually helped the morabund McCain campaign by getting people to the polls who would have otherwise stayed home. Romney’s people are smart enough to know they need the conservatives and the Tea Party people to show up in November.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/20/2012 - 02:33 pm.

      I hope Romney’s listening to you and names Michele Bachmann or Alan Keyes as the VP candidate. Or maybe Sheriff Arpaio. Entertainment for all.

      I won’t dispute that that sort of candidate would bring out the voters.

      (FYI, even George Bush said Palin lost the election for McCain. A study out there shows that Palin was the most damaging VP candidate ever.)

    • Submitted by Andrew Richner on 06/20/2012 - 02:38 pm.


      More evidence that he wouldn’t “do it” for Republicans is this: when was the last time you heard even a Minnesota politician tout his or her conservative cred by name-dropping T-Paw? If he was veep material, he would still have clout and presence in the local party, but he couldn’t cut it on the ground here.

    • Submitted by Thomas Anderson on 06/20/2012 - 02:44 pm.

      Your comment re: Palin picking up votes for McCain is just not true. I’d love to see some evidence of this.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/20/2012 - 09:38 pm.

        69% of GOP Voters Say Palin Helped McCain

        And according to the Washington Post, “60 percent of voters who told exit pollsters that McCain’s choice of Palin was a “factor” in their final decision, the Arizona senator won 56 percent to 43 percent.”

        So in effect, McCain gained a 13 point advantage by picking Palin by those who considered her one way or another.

        Friday, November 07, 2008
        Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Republican voters say Alaska Governor Sarah Palin helped John McCain’s bid for the presidency, even as news reports surface that some McCain staffers think she was a liability.

        CBS News reports the dissappearance of the enthusiasm gap:

        Republican presidential nominee John McCain leads Democratic rival Barack Obama 46 percent to 44 percent in the latest CBS News poll, which was taken in the three days following the completion of the parties’ nominating conventions.

        Though Obama supporters had been much more enthusiastic about their candidate than McCain supporters prior to the conventions, the enthusiasm gap has narrowed considerably. Forty-two percent of McCain’s backers now say they are enthusiastic about their candidate, up from 24 percent before the conventions. Fifty-three percent of Obama supporters say the same of their candidate, up slightly from the pre-convention survey.

        Registered voters have responded positively to the convention address given by McCain running mate Sarah Palin, who was added to the Republican ticket just more than a week ago

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 06/21/2012 - 07:33 am.

          (quote)Is the impact of


          Is the impact of Palin unknowable? Well, you can’t prove anything. But political scientists have tried to measure it and found that she had an extraordinarily large, and negative, impact. Political scientists Richard Johnston and Emily Thorson wrote a paper concluding:

          Judgment on her was incontestably important. The correspondence between dynamics in her ratings and dynamics in McCain vote intentions is astonishingly exact. Her marginal impact in vote-intention estimation models dwarfs that for any Vice-Presidential we are aware of, certainly for her predecessors in 2000 and 2004. …

          And yet another paper estimated the impact of Palin as minus two points, which, again, is extraordinarily large for a vice-presidential nominee.

          Now, again, this doesn’t prove anything, although it’s pretty suggestive. And, as Continetti notes at the end, it’s not the same as saying Palin alone cost McCain the election, since he lost by 7 points. But his point that Palin is probably the most politically damaging vice-Presidential nominee in American history, but McCain was bound to lose anyway, is not really much of a defense.

          (end quote)

        • Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 06/21/2012 - 07:34 am.

          The second half of this argument ( link) correctly reports that some voters were excited about Palin after they had seen her on TV but before they knew much about her. That’s the essence of the argument the other side makes here.

  7. Submitted by Herbert Davis on 06/20/2012 - 01:42 pm.

    At equal to Palin

    I’d prefer Romney picked Bachmann, Pawlenty should do just as well!

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/20/2012 - 02:23 pm.

    Good points Dennis, but

    While Palin undoubtedly increased the far right conservative turnout, she also increased the progressive turnout in reaction, and convinced many independents that McCain was demonstrating poor judgement in choosing someone like her as a potential commander in chief.
    The results showed which effect was the greater.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/20/2012 - 04:46 pm.

    It’s not just a ‘perception’

    “…The latter two factors — the Bush association and elite pedigree — pose problems for Romney since he wants voters to think that our economic problems began on Obama’s watch and he’s vulnerable to the perception that his economic circumstances are so different from those most people face that he really doesn’t get it.”

    Mr. Romney’s economic circumstances, from the day of his birth to the present, are so “different” from those most people face that he really (really) doesn’t “get it.” He inherited tens of millions of dollars on the day of his birth, went to exclusive schools all the way through, played capitalist carnivore with Bain Capital, and the last time I looked, was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s not just a “perception” that he doesn’t understand the economic circumstances of most Americans, it’s reality. He’s never, ever lived as most Americans live, and unless he’s dramatically different from the few people of genuine wealth with whom I’ve been acquainted personally (I’ve seen no evidence that that’s the case), he doesn’t want to.

    He’s the quintessential candidate of the “one percent,” or perhaps more accurately, the “one tenth of one percent.”

  10. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 06/21/2012 - 04:13 pm.


    When I heard that Pawlenty had a good chance of being candidate for V.P. with Romney, I laughed and cheered. Go, Tim, Go. You’ll be a real asset to us liberals.

  11. Submitted by Greg Olson on 07/20/2012 - 08:48 pm.

    Pawlenty as VP

    Minnesota is still digging itself out of the Pawlenty years and all of its accounting shifts and theft from school funding. It would be a tremendous gift to Democrats to choose Pawlently who as we have seen was able to deliver a handsome third place finish for Romney in the GOP caucuses.

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